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Portable Electrochemical Detection of Illicit Drugs in Smuggled Samples: Towards More Secure Borders

Illicit drug consumption is posing critical concerns in our society causing health issues, crime-related activities, and the disruption of the border trade. The smuggling of illicit drugs urges the development of new tools for rapid on-site identification in cargos. Current methods used by law enforcement offices rely on presumptive color tests and portable spectroscopic techniques. However, these methods sometimes exhibit inaccurate results due to commonly used cutting agents or because the drugs are smuggled (hidden or mixed) in colored samples. Interestingly, electrochemical sensors can deal with these specific problems.

In a publication prepared by researchers from the AXES Research Group and the NANOlab Center of Excellence of the University of Antwerp, and the National Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology (NICC), recently presented at the 1st International Electronic Conference on Chemical Sensors and Analytical Chemistry (available here), an electrochemical device that uses low-cost screen-printed electrodes for the electrochemical detection of illicit drugs by square-wave voltammetry (SWV) profiling is presented.

A library of electrochemical profiles is built upon pure and mixtures of illicit drugs with common cutting agents. This library allows the design of a tailor-made script that shows the identification of each drug through a user-friendly interface.

Finally, the results obtained from the analysis of different samples from confiscated cargos at different end-users sites present a promising alternative to current methods offering low-cost and rapid testing in the field.


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